Note: We think it is useful to see how corporate advisers tell corporations to react by organized criticism of their behavior. By understanding how they will react it enables us to be more effective in our advocacy.
This month I would like to share how to defend your reputation if your company is targeted and attacked by an activist organization. To illustrate this situation, I will use the example of a chocolate company accused of defoliating forests thus causing global warming and ultimately killing animal life.
Typically the first reaction of any organizations that is being criticized is an emotional one, which is exactly what the chocolate company had. They became defensive and in an effort to appease the activist organization and cease the attack, they created an expensive advertising campaign to say they were sorry and promised to do all they could to correct this terrible wrong. In essence, they admitted guilt. The consequence of this strategy was permanently losing market share consisting of anyone who felt strongly about defoliation, global warming or the needless killing of animals. This indelible admission insured those consumers never return.
To successfully combat this attack you must first consider the driving motive that supports the attacker’s existence. In this case, the environmental group, like many other social activist organizations, is dependent on contributions from people who share their cause. Most of these organizations are hungry for publicity and public awareness so being involved in a sensational story in which they appear as the protector supports their financial goals.
As is often the case, funding is a primary driver of any activist organization’s behavior. However, there are people within the activist organization that really do believe in the mission but dislike the strategy of attacking just to raise awareness to increase funding.
These folks are essentially whistle blowers. Primarily, they only feel safe to express those opinions through social media therefore it is essential to search the social media networks for syntax clues provided by the whistle blowers. Then, expose that information through your own media channels.
Next, determine if there are other companies in your industry who are also being attacked. You may be surprised to learn that although those companies operate in a similar fashion, you are in fact being singled out. Communicate this information as well as reinforcing the fact that you are being singled out unfairly.
Finally, prepare a cogent defense that indicates you have been aware of the issue for sometime and have been working to positively impact the situation. Communicate your strategy and demonstrate that your attacker is using old news and is out of touch with the reality of the situation.
Responding with an effective crisis communication strategy will help you defend your hard earned reputation and significantly reduce your exposure. Once the activist organization realizes you have exposed their funding strategy to the very contributors they depend on, they will cease the attack.